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‘Governor Joe’ Arpaio?

Here are some stark — if not entirely surprising — numbers from the latest Rasmussen Reports poll of the 2010 Arizona gubernatorial race. Out of four potential Republican contenders, anti-illegal immigration crusader and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the only one who leads the likely Democratic front-runner Terry Goddard, the state’s popular attorney general, in a head-to-head match-up.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Arizona voters finds Arpaio, famed for his crackdowns on illegal immigrants, leading Goddard, the state’s current attorney general, by 12 points – 51% to 39%. Seven percent (7%) prefer some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided.

According to the survey, Goddard leads Republican Gov. Jan Brewer by a comfortable nine-point margin, and Goddard is virtually tied with State Treasurer Dean Martin. Brewer is the only one of the possible candidates who is officially in the race.

With numbers like this, could Arpaio be enticed to run for governor? And could he win?

Rumors have been swirling in Arizona for the past few months that Arpaio is mulling a gubernatorial bid, fueled by his antipathy for Goddard. The 77-year-old Arpaio was first elected in 1992, and he won re-election in 2008 by a commanding 13-point margin, with 55 percent of the vote. During that race, Arpaio raised more than $600,000 — an eye-popping sum for a countywide election. Effectively a modern-day political boss, “Sheriff Joe” is well-known for his heavy-handed tactics to combat illegal immigration and bragging about the harsh conditions in county detention facilities. He has launched investigations of numerous political opponents, including Goddard, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the Phoenix New Times and the Maricopa County Superior Court.

While Arpaio remains extremely popular in Maricopa County — the home of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe accounts for approximately 61 percent of Arizona’s population — Goddard has already proven himself in statewide races, having been elected attorney general in 2002, and re-elected in 2006 with 60 percent of the vote (pdf). A poll released last month by the ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and KAET found Arpaio had a 61 percent approval rating among Maricopa County voters, while the same survey found 55 percent of Arizona voters approve of Goddard’s performance. Arizona has been trending Democratic in recent years, but a Gallup poll from January found party identification in the state was essentially a dead heat, and one would be hard-pressed to find anybody in Arizona without a strong opinion about Arpaio.

All of this seems to confirm Rasmussen’s findings: If Arpaio got into the race against Goddard, he would stand a pretty good chance of winning. It’s also a safe bet that Arpaio would raise a lot of money from out-of-state illegal immigration opponents.

The Obama administration has already clashed with Arpaio on a couple of occasions. In March, the Justice Department announced it was opening an investigation into allegations of racial profiling and unlawful searches and seizures, and last month Arpaio was stripped of his authority to enforce federal immigration laws under the controversial 287(g) program.

But if the Justice Department thought Arpaio was a handful as sheriff of Maricopa County, just imagine what he could do with control of the state’s Department of Public Safety, and Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislature.

(Via Eric Kleefeld)

*This post has been updated. *

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